OK, where to begin?? With a flurry of activity this weekend, it’s difficult to pick a spot to dive in, so I’m going to start with the most recent news – the signing of Tyler Bozak.
Announced late this afternoon/early tonight, the much-maligned former first-line center of the Toronto Maple Leafs was re-signed to a two year deal, worth a total of $1.95 million. The cap hit will cost the Leafs just $975,000 for the next two seasons. While Bozak failed to meet the lofty expectations that were placed on him by over-eager Leaf fans (myself included) after an impressive rookie half-season saw him show what looked to be a remarkable chemistry with sniper Phil Kessel, this deal will give him and the Leafs another two seasons to see if he can prove he’s got what it takes to be a capable role player in the modern NHL.
His failure to produce on the top line, in my opinion, shouldn’t truly be considered a failure, as much as it should be more of an indicator that he was simply placed in the wrong situation. While it would have been a pleasant surprise to see a fresh-outta-the-NCAA prospect jump into a first line role with an offensively-challenged NHL club, the odds simply aren’t favorable. Where Bozak did show promise this season was on the penalty kill, where he and Colby Armstrong played well as a unit. His faceoff skills are arguably the best on the team, even after the additions of Tim Connolly and Matt Lombardi. If he can keep somewhere near his .5 points-per-game pace, and contribute somewhere in the vicinity of 25-40 points while anchoring the third line, we will be singing his praises instead of critiquing him as we did all last season.
While he may not have been the highest profile restricted free agent that the Leafs had this summer, his retention is a good one in my opinion, as I don’t think we’ve seen the best this kid has to offer by a long shot. Given the right position, I think he’s got great potential to develop into a very solid two-way center, and 3rd line centers with the type of offensive prowess that Bozak seems to possess don’t come around every day. In order to be competitive in today’s NHL, teams need scoring from more than just their top two lines. If Bozak, Armstrong and whoever ends up on their wing can be a complementary offensive option while playing solid defense, they should provide a very nice alternative to what is shaping up to be a much more capable top-six group than we’ve seen the Leafs ice in the past.
Lots more to come this week, as always you can follow me at twitter.com/editorinleaf – thanks for reading. Go Leafs!